February 14, 2013

Paper Hearts

I'm a sucker for romance.  Really, I can be wildly sentimental, so I'm an easy target for any emotional tug at my heartstrings.  The older I get, the more unwilling I am to suffer through stories that don't end happily-ever-after.  But I'm not a fan of Valentine's Day.

Maybe it's my cynical streak.  The greeting card and candy and floral industries are certainly making a killing this week.  It's just another Hallmark holiday.

Maybe it's bitterness leftover from my youth when it was the other girls for whom boys were buying flowers and chocolates and stuffed dogs.

It's probably a little bit of both, but it's more.  A holiday ostensibly about love, even romantic love, should not take love so lightly.

Our secular holiday celebrations are all built around little fantasies, aren't they?  They serve as oases in our lives, breaks from the routine, as festivals always have.  They appeal to children, and to the child in all of us, because they take us away from the hard, cold world into a realm of imagination.  Where they touch our innocence, they are wonderful.  I like holidays.

But there is an inherent rub when the fantasy meets real life.  Then, more disappointing than discovering that Santa won't always bring you what you want or that a scary Halloween mask won't drive away the evil, is the hoax of love perpetuated by Valentine's Day.

Valentine love is easy.  It is never unrequited.  It's always agreeable.  It gives little gifts.  It is candlelight and hand holding.  It is always fresh and new.

Movie love is like Valentine love.  So is storybook love.  I fell for it.

When I was single, I was looking for Valentine love.  Even after I was married.  I wanted it to be easy.  I wanted it to be all hand holding and agreeable.  I wanted little gifts.  That's what it was supposed to be.

Of course, it's nothing of the kind.  Oh, sometimes, on a little oasis, it might be, for a moment.  But that oasis is a mirage; it doesn't slake a desert thirst.  Because the desire for real love is a deep thirst, which can't be satisfied by chocolates or flowers -- or even a wedding ring.

It can feel like hard work.  We are, each of us, so thirsty.  We come together to dig a well, but the water lies deep.  We're now two people digging.  Sometimes only one can bear the burden for a time.  Exhaustion sets in.  More dirt and ash shoveled out of the hole.

Sometimes it feels like we're digging through solid stone.  Maybe it's the trials of life.  Real romantic love has to dig through society's expectations.  Do we get married or live together?  It has to dig through childbearing or infertility or the choice to be childless. There are my parents and yours.  There are trials with money and struggles over sex.  There are illnesses and deaths and the specter of our own deaths.

The hardest stone of all might be my hardened heart or yours.  I want what I want and you want what you want.  If we're not careful, one of us will find herself or himself digging in a different hole altogether.

Or maybe we've never had anyone to dig with at all, and we're ready to put down the spade and lay down at the bottom of the empty well alone.

And the well never fills.

Hearts of stone can't be replaced by paper hearts, however beautifully they may be trimmed with lace and verse.  We need hearts of flesh.

Hearts of flesh are soft, but they're not so attractive.  They are full of life, blood, energy.  They can sputter or bleed or die.  Valentine's Day neglects to tell us that.

But God doesn't.  In Genesis 2:24, when God brings the first man and woman together, he invites them to be "one flesh."  My heart becomes yours and yours mine -- not the paper versions, but the beating, bleeding ones.  We take the risk of giving life to each other or sucking that life away.  If we're going to be able to bear the risk, we need a rest from the digging and relief of our unbearable thirst.

Jesus has a word for us about our thirst and our hearts.  He says it in John 7:37-38:
"Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'"
We can keep digging, and maybe some day we'll fill the well, but today, now, we can drink from the source. Whether we are coupled or single, any one of us can open his heart, her heart, and drink and be satisfied and find that our own fleshy hearts become a source of living water, the well that won't run dry.

So it doesn't have to be so hard after all.  That doesn't mean that the flowers and candy and paper hearts will suffice.  If you choose, by all means, take a moment today to enjoy the fantasy with roses and red balloons.  But if you are alone today, or if your beloved isn't the flowers-and-candy-giving type, don't despair. It's only Valentine love.  Real love is meant for you, for me, for us.

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